Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Perler Jam / Bad Hama Jammer

Sometimes I get rather bored and instead of playing more video games or try making more music, I try doing something a bit different to break the cycle. Here, I thought I would revisit some older technology for a bit of fun.

In the UK, these things are called Hama Beads, though they seem to be called Perler Beads in the 'states, and I had them originally bought for me by my other half to make retro video game pixel art with. But rather than do more of the same, I wanted to try making something a bit different that was a little more...me. 

Step One: Separate and design

The worst thing about Hama or Perler Beads is how small they are and how annoying it can be to get the colours you want out of the bag. In my case, I ended up collecting a ton of little ramekins and boxes from my kitchen and poured two bags of primary and pastel colours into separate boxes before separating them by hand into pots of similar colours. Without any real idea of what I wanted, I figured I could make some stylised synthesiser-like bead art and initially began by building something based on the Monotron Duo, simply by virtue of what colours I had to hand.

Step two: Put it together

Even with fairly small fingertips, the beads are always going to be smaller. So I raided the girlfriend's beauty kits and found a nice pair of tweezers from a Body Shop kit she had bought that seems to work fine - thought you will need to get one with pretty small tips.

As I started building it I realised I only had enough space on my white board to build a two octave keyboard design, which was still smaller than a Monotron. So I decided to just make silly synth-like designs with two-tone colour schemes and go from there. Initially this was supposed to be the duo, but eventually morphed into something more like a MiniNova.

Step three: Iron your design

Perhaps the quickest job in the whole process is to put the ironing paper on top of your design and put an iron on top of it and move it across to melt the beads on one edge. You don't need that much heat to melt them, about a minute's worth at high heat without steam (I cannot stress this enough) is more than enough. 

Protip: if you happen to have lost the special paper or you haven't got any of the right size, I can recommend using standard greaseproof paper that any decent cake drawer in your kitchen should have. Don't have a cake drawer? Shame on you, go and get some greaseproof paper from Morrisons as it is far cheaper than the uber-expensive stuff I have seen online.

Step four: Cool off!

After only a minute under an iron, you'll quickly realise that plastic heats up pretty quickly and at some finger-burning intensities. So what's the best way to cool it off?

Stick it in the fridge. Seriously. Also check out my fridge :D

It may take about 5-10 minutes depending on your fridge, but it is still faster than waiting for ambient cooling to take place, especially during the hot summer we're having. And afterwards, you've got some fun-looking synth bead art type things that now adorn my desk.

What's next?

There's nothing to stop me buying bigger boards and more colours to do proper one-to-one scale designs of real world synth designs. Also, the larger scale would mean I could do more interesting 3D effects with different colours acting as shadows and highlights. All good fun!